Big Bang STEM Engagement Fair in Weston-Super-Mare
2 May 2019
For two days the Winter Gardens in Weston-Super-Mare were transformed with jet engines, VR headsets, kinetic sand, exploding marshmallows and dental bacteria on display. All were there to engage students from local primary and secondary schools, as well as the public. Over 2,000 people attended over the Friday and Saturday with many students coming back on the Saturday with their parents.
Researchers, staff and students from Life Sciences and Health Sciences had four stands to engage visitors with research spanning from Cellular and Molecular Medicine, to Physiology and Biochemistry, Medicine and Dentistry, and Population Health. Starting with Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the immune system, visitors tried to identify different, cuddly microbes based on different properties. They were then able to look at histology slides related to the microbes as well as one of a giraffe lung! Students were really drawn to the boxes covered in hazard tape, overflowing with fluffy microbes.
Moving on to red blood cells and circulation, visitors were left shocked when handed a real (albeit plasticised) ox heart (it’s bigger than you think!) at the Physiology Sciences stand. Using pulse oximeters, visitors were able to see the changes in heart rates pre- and post-exercise, with many students challenging one another to see whose heart rate could go the highest. Parents were really interested in the ECG machine with many of them discussing the times they had been hooked up when in hospital – these moments provided really good opportunities to discuss the research going on in Biomedical Sciences around cardiovascular disease.
On stand three, visitors were first finding out about platelets and how blood clots form, and about some interesting research from the Faculty whereby bacteria are able to use platelets as an invisibility cloak and sneak into the body. This was a great opportunity to engage visitors with the importance of oral hygiene, as research has found that bacteria from our mouths has been involved in endocarditis. Having used both over-sized toothbrushes, water pistols and floss to fight off bacteria from our teeth, visitors then tried to identify the different species that a number of teeth belonged to, with rhinoceros, horse and lion teeth on offer.
On our final stand, visitors were invited to test their strength with handgrip dynamometers and explore the differences across populations, comparing handgrip strength with age. Researchers from Population Health Sciences explored how studying large populations enables us to identify patterns and who might be at risk of disease in the future. Students, and those on other stands, came back multiple times to try and improve their score on the handgrip test. This proved a really good way of attracting visitors to the stands and leading them into discussions on the other stands.
This was the third Big Bang in the Bristol area in as many years and definitely the best so far! The number of visitors and level of engagement was fantastic and very satisfying to see. School students came back to see us throughout the day and even returned on the Saturday with their parents and siblings! It's important that the University continues to support events like the Big Bangs as they are great way of engaging with hard to reach students and members of the public that we wouldn’t normally come into contact with.